By Jesús Aguado
On February 18, a grass fire consumed 300 hectares. More than 60 people worked to control the fire, and 30 of those fighters were volunteers who attacked the fire from a second front.
Annually there is an average of 300 fires in the San Miguel de Allende area, and some cause substantial property damage as well as destruction of flora and fauna. Josafat Enríquez, director of the Civil Protection Department, recommends people report fires and, in order to prevent accidents, wait to act if they do not have any training.
In May 2008, a grass fire was reported at the community of Los Torres. Desperate, the residents took action and started fighting the fire. Two 17-year-old boys were in a ravine fighting the fire when suddenly the wind changed and enveloped the teenagers in fire. They were taken to the hospital where they died hours later.
In contrast, on February 18, the people of Marroquín saw their mountainside burning. For three hours they called the emergency corps, got no answer, and decided to fight the fire themselves: 30 men arrived with shovels, sticks, tools, and a water truck. After a few hours, when the fire was under control, the emergency corps arrived. Neighbors thanked the volunteers for their brave action by offering them lunch the next day.
Enríquez made it clear that the Civil Protection workers did not arrive at the fire earlier because another fire had broken out at 10am in the community of Los Órganos, and 12 members of the Fire Office, 10 members of the Secretariat of National Defense, plus 10 workers of the Civil Protection Department were battling the blaze there. Enríquez added that the wind direction changed, as it had in Los Torres, and it spread the fire east reaching Marroquín, where the fire was controlled by 7pm.
Enríquez mentioned that landowners have the legal duty to maintain their property clean of debris to help prevent fires and, importantly, there will be federal financing to help landowners with that work. He also remarked that the grass fires in San Miguel municipality cannot be compared to the devastating forest fires in the US since the area does not have tall trees or houses made of wood. “Here the houses are made of stone and they are not burned by fire,” he added.
The director also asked people to not throw trash in empty lots, since trash can start the fires. He also asked residents to determine when there is a fire in an empty lot if the help of the emergency corps is really necessary. He added that many of the empty lots in San Miguel are surrounded by walls, and many times there is no risk of the fire spreading since there is not a roof made of wood, a shack, or a gas tank on the property. He further added, “Since it is grass, not even the gas tanks are a risk since they would require a prolonged, direct heat of 600 degrees Celsius before they would explode.”
Finally, he said that his department is working with the Environmental Department to train people in rural areas to prevent and fight fires when necessary until the emergency corps can arrive. Rural communities have received personal protection equipment, as well as safety instructions for firefighting.
The 24/7 emergency number for fires is 911.